News wire — Saudi Arabia is considering a Chinese bid to build it a nuclear power plant, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, a decision that could derail U.S. plans in the kingdom.
State-owned China National Nuclear Corp has bid to build a nuclear plant in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, near the border with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the newspaper reported, citing Saudi officials familiar with the matter.
China’s foreign ministry did not confirm the report, but a ministry spokesperson told a news briefing: “China will continue to conduct mutually beneficial cooperation with Saudi Arabia in various fields, including civil nuclear energy, while strictly abiding by international non-proliferation obligations.”
CNNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia did not respond to requests for comment on the report.
Saudi Arabia has previously sought U.S. cooperation in establishing a civilian nuclear programme on its soil as part of a possible normalisation deal with Israel.
U.S. officials have said in the past they would share nuclear power technology only if the agreement prevents enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of plutonium made in reactors – two routes to making nuclear weapons.
Saudi officials acknowledged that exploring the issue with China was a way of goading the Biden administration to compromise on its non-proliferation requirements, the newspaper added.
Saudi officials said they would prefer to hire South Korean state utility Korea Electric Power to build the plant’s reactors and involve U.S. operational expertise, but without agreeing to the proliferation controls that Washington generally requires, the newspaper said.
The Saudi officials said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was prepared to move ahead with the Chinese company soon if talks with the U.S. failed, the WSJ said.
Israel’s energy minister has voiced opposition to the idea of Saudi Arabia developing a civilian nuclear programme as part of any U.S. effort to forge closer Israeli-Saudi relations.
Israel has said it expected to be consulted by Washington on a U.S.-Saudi deal affecting its national security. Israel, which is outside the voluntary Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has no nuclear energy, is widely believed to have atomic weapons.
Saudi Arabia has built closer relations with China over the past year. In March, China brokered a resumption of ties between Saudi Arabia and its arch-regional foe Iran.
China and Saudi Arabia have extensive trade relations in the energy field, given the former is the world’s biggest importer of crude oil and the latter the biggest exporter.
State-run China Energy Engineering Corp is building a 2.6-GW solar power station in Al Shuaiba alongside Saudi utility developer ACWA Power, in what is to be the Middle East’s largest solar project.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the kingdom in December last year, in what was described by China’s foreign ministry as an “epoch-making milestone in the history of the development of China-Arab relations”.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has sought to maintain a balance between China and the United States, with the U.S. remaining its most important security partner.
Reporting by Mrinmay Dey in Bengaluru; Andrew Hayley and Liz Lee in Beijing; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Robert Birsel and Edmund Klamann – Reuters
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